RCPCH calls for extending access to free school meals this summer

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) stands with footballer Marcus Rashford and his campaign to make the government think again on the provision of free school meal vouchers for children this summer.

Professor Russell Viner, President of the RCPCH, said:

"Good nutrition lies at the heart of health and wellbeing for children and young people, as well as improving learning outcomes.

"In direct terms, children have been the group least affected by COVID-19. But, indirectly, they could be the group most at risk from the effects of unemployment, reduced family income and the closure of schools.

"We need a plan to get children back to school as quickly as possible. In the meantime, extending access to free school meals throughout the summer is one of the key things the government can do rapidly to reduce inequalities resulting from COVID-19."

Dr Ronny Cheung, co-author of the 2020 State of Child Health report and a consultant at the Evelina Children’s Hospital, said:

"Just days before the country went into lockdown, we released our State of Child Health report. It painted a bleak picture of how poverty was having a detrimental effect on children and young people and how we were in danger of falling behind many other comparably wealthy countries on so many measures of child health. 

"Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 30% of all children in the UK – that’s 4 million children – were living in poverty. Around a third of these children receive free school meals and we know that, for some of them, that’s the only proper meal they will eat all day. It’s vital that those children continue to be supported this summer.

"This pandemic is increasing deprivation and the gap between rich and poor families with – yet again – children from black and ethnic minority backgrounds disproportionately affected. Families who were previously doing OK are now suffering financial hardship because of COVID-19. But, for so many children who were already at risk from the effects of poverty, this virus will be devastating."